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Akaash Bani:
The Word on The Air Waves -
The Roundtable Open Forum # 97

T. SHER SINGH

 

 

 

My mother turned 83 the other day.

When we all met on Sunday at a restaurant in Toronto to celebrate her birthday, she casually forewarned me that she would be tied up the next few days, in case I would be phoning her and didn’t get a response.

“Why,” I asked, “doing what?” You can see, I’ve learnt from my grown-up daughter that once you get older, you are entitled to badger your parent the way he or she had done when you were a kid.

Biji explained that on Monday (November 26), the Sikh TV network, SurSagar (“SSTV“), was commencing its annual, on-air akhand paatth.

My memory is a sieve now. I couldn‘t remember much about its why and how from previous years. So, she explained.

Each year, two days prior to the Gurpurab Day marking the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the TV network clears its studio located in a north suburb of Toronto (Ontario, Canada), washes it cleans and then, with TV cameras as witnesses, commences an akhand paatth, the continuous, non-stop reading of the Guru Granth from cover to cover.

The completion, the bhog, is timed to coincide with Gurpurab Day, which this year was yesterday.

Biji clears up her schedule for the two days. Believe it or not, she has a full one everyday, since she insists on living alone. All of her children, and most grandchildren, are within short driving distances.

Even though she always has her own sehaj paatth - a 'slow' reading - going at any given point of time. She reads and meditates on several pages every day in the parkash room she has set aside in her condominium. Each complete paatth she  does all alone, and manages to do at least three complete readings, if not four, every year.

But this particular one broadcast on air, she says, is always a pleasure. It’s accessible on TV, radio and the internet worldwide. Tens of thousands, possibly many more, it is estimated, get to enjoy it.

Biji’s TV stays on for the duration. She camps in the TV room, which also has a bed … it doubles as a guest room.

She listens to the paatth whenever she can, between chores and other necessary activities, including all the sleep she needs.       

She says she gets a lot out of it. It frees mental-time and -space, allowing her to concentrate on the import of the words, instead of the act of reading.

The paatth, in this unique configuration, is the brain-child of Ravinder Singh Pannu, the brilliant and dedicated force behind SurSagar.

He does it with all the respect and decorum necessary. The list of paatthis, for example, is carefully whetted for their sweetness, their accuracy, and the quality of their voices. Each does paatth for no more than an hour at a time.

Biji loves it and gets so much joy from it. She is the anchor in our family, always has been. It is her influence and example, along with of my late father, that have shaped my view of Sikhi. So, I know that if Ravinder Singh’s project passes muster with her, he must definitely be doing something right.

She’s not alone in her assessment.

Countless Sikhs from all over have expressed their appreciation every year. But the words of one this year captures the collective sentiments of them all.

“Blessed is this man,” said one senior, “who brings us the shabad right into our homes. But twice blessed is his mother who gave birth to such a son!”

THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 97

Would love to hear your thoughts on this interesting use of technology.     

 

November 29, 2012

 

Conversation about this article

1: Jaspreet (Canada), November 29, 2012, 7:51 AM.

T. Sher Singh ji, first let me compliment your mother for being so independent. I really admire elderly people like her who have a strong spirit and a life of their own too and not just one based on the descendents. I don't really find the use of this technology new at all. I think it is hundreds of years old really. Think of it, "Akaash Bani." Means bani coming from the sky, doesn't it? Now think of something Guru Amar Das said when questioned by a brahmin who asked him why he used Punjabi and not Sanskrit, the so-called 'language of the gods' for religious discourse. Guru Amar Das replied: "Sanskrit is like a well - deep, inaccessible and confined to the elite, but the language of the people is like rain water - ever fresh, abundant and accessible to all." Rain too falls from the sky. Akaash Bani or let us say Rain Bani, is there really a difference? I'm sure you are more familiar with the story of Babel than me for I last read it in a dentist's office as a child. It goes something like this, doesn't it: apparently men spoke just one language and when they did not trust God but started to build a tower so God could not kill them with a flood again, God punished them. How? They could no longer understand each other for they started to speak different languages. I find this a beautiful story that has many meanings to ponder. I remember reading one time that there is no town in America called Babel though almost everything else can be found, even places named after the gentleman with horns who lives downstairs. There is at least one town named Hell too, but no Babel (though it might have changed since I read it a while back) for it is a frightening concept for Bible-followers, apparently. I would say our Babel was dealt with quite effectively by the Sikh Gurus though by the way they organized Guru Granth Sahib. There are many languages in it put into one script. Moreover, there is a strong oral component too. Music is what holds it together. I remember reading that Guru Granth Sahib is set as a musical city though I don't have much insight into this. Anyway, the bottom line is radio initially proved to be great technology for sharing religion and spirituality (and other things too, no doubt). In China, millions of people became Christians through preaching on the radio. The fact that people don't get distracted by having to watch visuals at the same time like on TV, and sound can bend around corners and reach people even if the radio is not in a straight line from the ears with no obstacles in between, is important too, I suppose.

2: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 29, 2012, 9:18 AM.

Guru Granth Sahib has 1430 pages and it is just not possible to read the entire gurbani within 48 hours with clear connotations (shudh uchaaran) that can be understood by the listeners in the sangat. As established over a period of time by experienced readers (paatthis) normally one can read around 20 pages per hour, reading with full concentration. For example, Sukhmani covers 33 pages and takes up almost two hours. During akhand paatth the same bani is finished in one hour (by midnight) with speed reading, which challenges the sangat if it wishes to understand the passages. If read at a normal pace, it should take about 72 hours.

3: Pardeep Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 29, 2012, 10:35 AM.

SurSagar broadcasts its programmes both on TV and Radio. My parents, in addition to attending the gurdwara, have the SurSagar radio channel on all day, evening, and night during the akhand paatth. It is soothing to our ears and minds.

4: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), November 30, 2012, 8:35 PM.

Good effort, especially in the sincerity of your mother to pay most attention to gurbani. We need to ensure that gurbani reaches maximum people by maximum methods. In 'Jail Chitthiaan' (autobiography of Bhai Randhir Singh), it is mentioned that gursikhs at that time used to listen full akhand paatth without sleeping or gaps. One Gursikh vir, S. Bhupinder Singh Kohli of Mumbai, India, takes the sangat on gurpurabs to old age homes, orphanages, homeless centres, etc., to serve both gurbani and langar to those who are unable to come to the hurdwara -- thus, the gurdwara is brought to them.

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The Word on The Air Waves -
The Roundtable Open Forum # 97"









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